Wednesday. 12/1/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / James Chambers

After party

Boris Johnson isn’t the only world leader dealing with a “partygate” headache. Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam is facing questions about a recent birthday party attended by senior officials and a host of pro-Beijing lawmakers. The event, involving 170 people, went against official coronavirus-related guidance and saw a busload of these patriotic party boys and girls being carted off to the city’s quarantine camp (pictured), for a few weeks of solitary detention and self-reflection.

As investigations continue, this evolving scandal has provided a timely reminder about the importance of the media in a free society. Simply put, it would not have been reported on the mainland. In Hong Kong, however, the press corps has been digging out the facts and asking questions of those in charge. But for how much longer can they perform such a role? Hong Kong’s partygate comes at a time when independent news organisations are under sustained attack, with several having already been forced to close.

The Christmas raid on Stand News and the closure of Citizen News is unlikely to be the end of the crackdown. Whatever’s left of the industry might soon have to deal with a “fake news” law that could make criticising the authorities even costlier. In a particularly cruel twist, pro-Beijing newspapers in Hong Kong, some of which are directly owned by China’s liaison office in the city, have become as potent a weapon as the dreaded national security law. A critical article or ferocious editorial in one of these titles can be all it takes to convince an opposition organisation to shut up shop – long before any police raids or evidence of actual wrongdoing. With Chinese New Year only weeks away, there is little mood in Hong Kong to celebrate.

Image: Getty Images

Aid / Afghanistan

Helping hand

The UN has launched its largest fundraising drive for a single country, with the aim of collecting more than $5bn (€4.4bn) for Afghanistan. Millions of Afghans are facing famine, partly due to strict international sanctions introduced since the Taliban returned to power in August. Even middle-class Afghans have been plunged into poverty and, while food is available, most families cannot afford it. The campaign will test donors’ willingness to give to a country that has seen a crackdown on freedoms since the takeover. But UN emergency aid co-ordinator Martin Griffiths promised that the money would not leak to agencies controlled by the Taliban. While the US donated millions to the UN’s last fundraising drive, it has also frozen nearly $9.5bn (€8.4bn) in assets belonging to Afghanistan’s central bank. Though the US might have sound reasons for believing that aid will be appropriated by the militant group, money and food must be freed up to prevent a humanitarian disaster. Some things are more important than ideology.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Kazakhstan

Same difference

After almost 8,000 arrests and more than 160 deaths, Kazakhstan’s nationwide uprising appears to be over; order has been restored with assistance from the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation. Kazakh president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced yesterday that the bloc’s 3,000-odd troops will begin their withdrawal this week. The unrest began as a spontaneous protest on 3 January over fuel prices in Zhanaozen, where a 2011 demonstration over pay for oil workers escalated into a state-led massacre.

As then, specific issues were quickly subsumed by general anger at poor living standards in the autocratic state. Though Tokayev seems superficially to have conceded to protesters’ demands – reversing the fuel-price hike that sparked the rioting, for example, and dismissing the unpopular government – the mood remains febrile. The swift nomination of Alikhan Smailov to be the country’s new prime minister is unlikely to persuade dissatisfied citizens of significant progress. Smailov, after all, served as deputy prime minister in the last cabinet.

Image: Alamy

Society / Brazil

Title case

Brazil’s foundation for the promotion of black culture, Fundação Palmares, has had an attempt to remove titles from its archive struck down by a federal court. Sérgio Camargo, the organisation’s pro-Bolsonaro president, claimed that many of the foundation’s books – which include works by Max Weber, Eric Hobsbawm and HG Wells – were too “left-wing”, “strayed from the institution’s mission” and should be destroyed because they contributed to a “Marxist indoctrination” agenda. This isn’t the first time he has courted controversy: last year he was suspended following allegations of bullying, racism and discrimination. Given the court’s decision on Friday, it appears that Camargo’s wishes won’t go to plan. But he hasn’t given up. That same day, he took to social media to insist that the books be hidden at the back of the institution’s library under the title “Archive of Shame” instead. Whatever your politics, going after books is never a good look.

Image: Ed Reeve

Retail / London

Arch support

Borough Market in London’s Southwark has been a lively food market since the 13th century and a newly revamped square and railway arch complex, Borough Yards (pictured), will increase footfall further in 2022. The gleaming, brick-built affair has room for 50 new shops and restaurants plus 17,000 sq m of fresh office space – all of it a sourdough roll’s throw from the popular Victorian market hall and neat independent shops that line it. This opening was preceded by the scrubbed-up Soap Yard space, which welcomed visitors in December. The rest of the development, by London-based architects Spparc, will open fully in spring and include an array of top restaurants such as Barrafina and Vinoteca. “We have a lot of demand for F&B units,” says Marcus Meijer, CEO of developer Mark. “One positive from the challenges facing retail today is that the balance sheet is less important than before; more important is what they add to the mix.” Excited to get back out there in 2022? Watch this space.

M24 / Monocle on Culture

Review: ‘Licorice Pizza’

Robert Bound and guests Simran Hans and Jason Solomons discuss Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, a coming-of-age tale set in the heady summer heat of 1970s California. Underpinned by a soundtrack of original music and 1970s classics, the film winds a gentle story of young love with riotous escapades and cameos from the likes of Sean Penn and Bradley Cooper.

Monocle Films / Global

‘The Monocle Book of the Nordics’

Following in the footsteps of our best-selling titles The Monocle Book of Italy and The Monocle Book of Japan, this is a thrilling exploration of Europe’s northernmost reaches. Order your copy from The Monocle Shop.

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